Updated May 4th, 2024 at 18:58 IST

Will There be an End to War in Gaza? The Differences & Uncertainty Around Israel-Hamas Negotiations

Despite major disagreements between Israel and Hamas, efforts to bring back Israeli hostages and address the spiralling humanitarian crisis in Gaza continue.

Reported by: Digital Desk
Nearly seven months on, international pressure is building to end the conflict in Gaza. | Image:AP/ Leo Correa
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Cairo: Despite glaring differences on the nature of the ceasefire and what comes after, Israel and Hamas continue to negotiate a possible end to the war in Gaza which is approaching its seventh month. On Saturday, ABC News reported that a Hamas delegation had returned to Cairo in order to deliver its verdict on a ceasefire proposal that not only has the backing of Egypt and the US but has also, allegedly, been tacitly approved by Israel itself. 

In widely reported comments, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken praised Israeli leadership this week for offering what he termed as ‘significant concessions’ while emphasising that the ‘time is now’ to seal the deal. 

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The ongoing negotiations take on greater urgency as Israel has reportedly threatened to carry out its long-promised invasion of Rafah where over a million Palestinians are taking shelter if Hamas does not accept the ceasefire agreement. 

At the same time, the director of the UN World Food Programme, Cindy McCain, warned that the northern half of Gaza was already in a state of full-blow famine and that the south was soon to follow.

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UN officials have warned that Gaza is already in the midst of a full-blown famine and that a ceasefire is necessary to bring the humanitarian crisis under control. (Photo credit: AP) 

 

McCain, in an interview with NBC, said that a ceasefire and dramatic increase in aid to the embattled enclave was the only way to bring the raging humanitarian crisis under control. 

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Humanitarian crisis aside, each of the sides involved in the negotiations has their own reasons as to why they need a ceasefire deal to be successfully negotiated. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, for instance, is under increasing domestic pressure to bring back the hostages in Gaza at all costs while the US is looking to not only bring relief to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza but also avoid a full-blown regional escalation of the conflict. 

What is the ‘do or die’ Hamas deal about?

Earlier this week, AP reported on certain details of the deal that is being offered to the Hamas in order to facilitate a temporary ceasefire that would also see the return of some or all of the remaining Israeli hostages that are supposedly being held in Gaza.

As per the report, which cites anonymous Hamas and Egyptian officials, the ceasefire deal would work in several phases.

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The first phase would reportedly last for 40 days and would start with Hamas releasing female civilian hostages it and other Palestinian militia groups are holding. In exchange, Israel will release an unknown number of Palestinian prisoners that it is holding in its prisons. 

The Netanyahu government is facing increasing pressure to urgently bring about a ceasefire deal that would bring back the Israeli hostages in Gaza. (Photo credit: AP)

 

After this initial exchange is concluded, Israel would reportedly pull back its troops from a coastal road in Gaza to not only allow an increase in aid entering the enclave but would also enable displaced Gazans to return to their homes in the northern part of the Strip. Israel also expects Hamas to hand over a list of hostages that are still alive in its captivity at the moment. 

Three weeks into this phase, Israel would pull back its troops from central Gaza while both sides commence negotiations in the interest of a more permanent peace arrangement. 

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The second phase, which would last six weeks, would see the release of more Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners while the two sides continue to seek a more lasting period of calm.

Finally, in the third and final phase, Israel would hand over even more prisoners in exchange for the remains of deceased hostages in Gaza. This phase will also mark the commencement of a five-year reconstruction plan to renew and repair Gaza after seven months of war.

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A recent assessment released by the UN Development Programme said that the effort to rebuild Gaza could take a decade and around $40 billion. 

The AP report notes that the ceasefire plan also calls on Hamas to refrain from rebuilding its military capabilities. 

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Disagreements and potential deal-breakers

Of course, for all this to come to fruition, both Israel and Hamas would need to overcome considerable differences on how they wish the ceasefire to play out. A major sticking point for both sides is the duration of the ceasefire.

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While Hamas is seeking a permanent end to the conflict, at least for now, Israel has remained adamant that it will only end the war when Hamas has been removed from Gaza, with or without a ceasefire agreement. 

On Saturday, an Israeli official reiterated the point to ABC News, stating that Israel was not willing to end the war as a whole as part of the ceasefire agreement. 

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Another major point of contention is the fate of Rafah and the impending Israeli ground invasion. Several nations worldwide have expressed concern and condemnation over the planned Israeli ground invasion of Rafah. The UN recently warned that any ground operation in Rafah would place hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees at an “imminent risk of death.”

Despite pushback from even its closest allies, Israel is determined to go ahead with a ground invasion of Rafah, with or without a ceasefire agreement. (Photo credit: AP)

 

Egypt, which is extremely concerned about the prospect of the conflict and the ongoing humanitarian crisis spilling over its shared border with Gaza, has reportedly offered private assurances to the Hamas side that Israel would not invade Rafah. 

The US, for its part, has also expressed grave concerns over the invasion but has said it may give the green light if it is presented with an Israeli assault plan that would minimise the risk of civilian casualties.

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Quoting official sources, AP said that Israel has recently presented the Biden administration with the details of such a plan though these anonymous officials emphasised that the current state of the plan has not changed Washington's perception of the risks involved in a Rafah invasion.

Israel, of course, insists that the invasion of Rafah is absolutely necessary to complete the destruction of Hamas in Gaza and has repeatedly said that any ceasefire deal would only temporarily delay the assault and not prevent it. 

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Uncertainty over what comes next 

Rafah aside, there is also a lack of clarity on what happens after the current conflict comes to an end, with questions ranging from the administration of Gaza to how the reconstruction of the enclave would be funded.

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There is considerable uncertainty over how the post-war reconstruction of Gaza would be achieved and who would foot the bill. A recent UN estimate said that it would take nearly a decade and around $40 billion to repair and renew the enclave. (Photo credit: AP)

 

In regard to the latter question, the US has said that it expects to see a greater post-war role of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza as a lead-up to the eventual creation of a Palestinian state. 

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The Netanyahu government, on the other hand, says that it will continue to maintain an overall security role in Gaza while also rejecting calls for a greater role for the Palestinian Authority in Gaza.

Several Israeli ministers including Netanyahu himself have also publicly pushed back against the possibility of a Palestinian state being created.

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It may also be noted that a Hamas official recently claimed in an interview with AP that it would be willing to lay down its arms and convert itself into a political organisation so long as Israel allows the establishment of a Palestinian state on the basis of the pre-1967 borders. 

Even if such a deal were to be accepted by Israel, the Hamas official only spoke about a temporary truce of five years or more and did not comment on whether the group would accept the existence of the state of Israel or whether it would change its end goal of destroying the nation.

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Published May 4th, 2024 at 18:49 IST